SENATOR THE HON SIMON BIRMINGHAM
Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Doorstop; Adelaide Airport, SA
Topics: Australia trade surplus; US-China trade war; Liberal Party fundraiser;
Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much for coming today. The last time that Australia recorded a current account surplus, Gerald Ford was the US president, Skyhooks were topping the charts, and Australia’s currently trade minister was just one year of age. So it’s been a long time between drinks in that sense, and what is welcome about this news today is the extent to which it has been fueled by record levels of exports from our country. $470 billion worth of exports that we’ve seen over the period 2018-19. Huge growth in our exports of around 15 per cent, and that’s been sustained across so many of the key markets where Australia has established free trade agreements under the Liberal-National Government.
We’ve seen growth – China market, Japan market, Korea market, across the ASEAN countries. Through our region we’ve seen very strong growth in terms of Australia’s exports. And those exports are fueling both in Australian businesses and the creation of Australian jobs. That is the wonderful site we have when it comes to export growth in Australia. Higher exports equals stronger businesses, equals more jobs for Australians. And that’s what we’ve been out to fuel and generate over our six years of intense focus on creating more market opportunities for Australian businesses. And with those increased market opportunities, enabling them to export more. Government doesn’t export goods, businesses do. We simply open the door for them by creating the opportunities through our trade agreements and our trade deals. That’s why it’s important we keep that agenda going.
As a government, we’ve grown the extent to which Australian goods and services exported are covered by preferential trade arrangements, to around 70 per cent of our total goods and services. We want to see that continue to grow to close to 90 percent in the future, and essential to that is to see current agreements that we have concluded negotiations on, but have yet to bring into force – like our Indonesian FTA, supported and passed through the Parliament. That’s why it’s essential that the uncertainty that surrounds future trade deals created by the Labor Party’s umming and ahhing about what their position is, is removed with a categorical statement of support to the Indonesian deal, as well as those with Hong Kong and Peru.
The proof is there now through Australia’s export success, that our trade deals negotiated by Liberal-National governments are working in Australia’s national interest. And what’s critical is to make sure that the future deals we make get the same bipartisan support those in the past have enjoyed. And I urge Anthony Albanese to remove that uncertainty, to back the Indonesian deal, to back all of our future trade deals, because what these deals are doing is helping Australian businesses to export more Australian goods and services successfully, right around the world.
Reporter: Minister, the trade surplus is great, but does the drop in retail figures link to the low wages here in this state?
Simon Birmingham: Well, look, we’ve seen a period of strong, indeed record jobs growth occurring, 1.4 million jobs greater across Australia under our government. Yes, wages have been relatively flat, but wages growth still remains significantly higher than CPI growth. And what we hope and trust is that through continued wages growth and continued activity across our economy, such as record exports, that that will continue to translate into stronger wages growth in the future.
Reporter: Trades may be good initially, but what’s going to happen now with the ongoing trade war between China and the US? Is Australia going to get caught up in that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the trade war between China and the US is bad news for global economic growth, and bad news for growth in global trade volumes. But Australia is showing enormous resilience in present, and in part that’s thanks to the work our government has done in opening up trade opportunities across our region, around the world. And it’s why we have to continue to double down on securing more trade opportunities for Australian businesses. That’s why it’s essential that the Australian Parliament, the Labor Party in particular, remove any uncertainty that surrounds deals with Indonesia, Hong Kong, or Peru, and make sure that Australian exporters have the certainty to keep exploring new markets, new opportunities for future.
Reporter: How would you describe the Liberal Party fundraiser event that you went to last night?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, there are many party fundraisers that are held, that’s part of the job that we do as politicians. Equally, of course, what I spend the vast majority of my time doing is worrying about how I can help farmers and businesses to export more jobs- more goods to the world. That certainly was a topic of conversation amongst many of the people I spoke with last night.
Reporter: Do you think it’s appropriate that a major media outlet hosts a function for a political party?
Simon Birmingham: Oh look, I think that’s entirely a matter for them. It’s a free country. And we encourage people to engage in the political process. We encourage businesses to do so. Ultimately that is a matter for them
Reporter: Journalists at The SMH, The Age, The AFR – they’re concerned about their reputation for independent journalism if they’re being compromised by hosting political fundraisers. Do you think that’s a fair assessment on their behalf?
Simon Birmingham: That’s a matter for them for that organisation. Ultimately I think Australia’s journalists, whoever they work, pride and cherish their independence, and it doesn’t matter who their employer or organisation is. And they usually exercise that independence to the full.
Reporter: Why is the Liberal Party having fundraiser at Channel 9?
Simon Birmingham: Look, the Party is of course eager to ensure that we garner the maximum support right across the Australian community. That’s what we did in the election this year, that’s what we will keep doing. But we do that primarily by being a government that creates more job opportunities, more export opportunities for Australians. And that’s been my focus, thanks.
Reporter: Are there other obscure places that the Liberal Party has fundraisers, or has in the past?
Simon Birmingham: I’ll leave those questions for party organisation.
Reporter: What’s the Government doing to keep our economy out of a looming recession?
Simon Birmingham: Well, our Government’s focus is on implementing the budget we handed down this year, which was done with the full knowledge there were global trade tensions, there were headwinds and economic concerns. That’s why we handed down a budget that had tax cuts at its heart core. Tax cuts that are putting more dollars into the pockets of hardworking Australians, as well as record levels, a hundred billion dollars plus of investment in infrastructure across Australia, as well as continued plans to grow our exports through new market opportunities in the future. That’s what we’re going to keep doing, is delivering on an economic plan that is seeing Australia through, challenging global times at present, and to make sure that continues into the future.